13th: Review


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I should start by saying that I am not North American.

I am a Scotsman.

A caucasian Scotsman at that.

And yes, a Liberal.

I love the United States and my experiences there have been universally positive.

But these were experiences in areas of privilege and that are essentially cleansed for tourists.  Largely Liberal areas where whites and people of colour live in harmony (Manhattan, Florida, California, Chicago city centre, Toronto).

In these places I did not see the ghettoes and the communities  of colour that this shocking documentary uncovers and that has spurred on the whole Where Black Lives Matter movement.

The title refers to the 13th Amendment to the American constitution that was passed in 1864 and aimed to abolished slavery once and for all.

What 13th sets out to expose is the centuries long political outcome, that has resulted in ‘Mass Incarceration’ mainly of black and coloured men in the USA.

Plea bargaining is one of the most heinous causes of it.  Because without money and facing massive gambles 97% of Black men plead guilty to avoid a trail where sentences will be massive due to minimum incarceration legislation.

In other words they can plead guilty to a crime they did not commit and receive perhaps a three year sentence.  Or they can fight their conviction and, if unsuccessful, face a 30 year Minimum Incarceration, without parole, term.

The odds don’t look good.

So, they typically take the rap and plea bargain.

Under this type of increasingly  aggressive legislation and successive governments’ “War on Drugs” and “War on crime” the US Prison population has risen from 200,000 to 2.5 million since 1970.

Incidentally Crack cocaine conviction (Black working class, inner city) has a significantly longer incarceration minimum to powder cocaine conviction (White, suburban.)

The US has only 5% of the worlds population, but 25% of world’s prison population.

1 in 17 of white men in the USA are incarcerated, but 1 in 3 of Black men are.

Black men represent 6.5% of the US Population, but 40.2% of the prison population.

Does this mean black men in the USA are intrinsically criminal?

No it does not.

It means , the film-makers argue, that there is a political will in all parties and for many, many years to incarcerate black men as a form of replacement of slavery.

It is big business. (ALEC represents the financial interests of corporations.)

It makes politicians look tough.

“The War on Crime” literally, wins votes and Democrats are as guilty of it as Republicans.

Mass incarceration is the new slavery.  Which was replaced by  Convict Leasing, lynchings, the Ku Klux Klan, the Jim Crow segregation laws.  And Yet it was only AFTER  and DESPITE the Civil Rights Act that Mass Incarceration became the ‘solution’.

But there is hope.  Hillary Clinton is planning to redesign the incarceration regime (that her husband dramatically escalated) as started by Obama; the first ever President to visit a Prison and who oversaw the first drop in incarceration numbers in 40 years.

As Trump says (with glee).  “In the good old days this wouldn’t happen (blacks protesting at his events) because they treated them rough.  They’d carry them out on a stretcher.”

It’s a mess and this documentary makes Ia right good job of exposing it.

OK it’s very one-sided and it is represented by extremely articulate coloured American middle class academics and commentators.

But they were not always thus.

I, for one, think it’s a thing of greatness and I’d urge you to watch it.

 

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